[Fran and Stephen are observing from the roof of the mall]
Francine Parker: What are they doing? Why do they come here?
Stephen: Some kind of instinct. Memory of what they used to do. This was an important place in their lives.
– Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Hard to believe it’s been 20 years since Barenaked Ladies’ One Week was a popular, chart topping hit. I remember driving around Tempe in the fall of 1998 listening to The Edge 106.3 FM, and it seemed like this song was on the radio every 5 minutes…sometime between songs such as Harvey Danger’s Flagpole Sitta and Third Eye Blind’s How’s It Gonna Be? These songs were heard many times on trips to and from Blockbuster Video (as well as Hollywood Video) to rent and return erotic thrillers, midnight outings to Denny’s, lonely drives to North Phoenix, my job at Abercrombie and all the rest.
One Week was one of those cheesy songs that I would have never admitted to liking but knew the words to and would secretly enjoy when it came on. It wasn’t passionately hated enough for me to like ironically, the way I later did with boy bands and Vitamin C, it was at least preferable to rapcore, a genre which I loathe to this day. In 1998, I would have complained about all the music on the radio sucking except the oldies station. This seems laughable in the context of today, when nearly every pop song is processed gibberish. In hindsight, we didn’t know how good we had it!One Week has the feel of a relic from a much more innocent and carefree era. It might as well be 100 years ago and a different country. The plethora of pop culture references in the lyrics are characteristic of Generation X works made at what Bret Easton Ellis refers to as the “height of the empire.”
Watchin X-Files with no lights on,
We’re dans la maison
I hope the Smoking Man’s in this one
Like Harrison Ford I’m getting Frantic
Like Sting I’m Tantric
Like Snickers, guaranteed to satisfy
I remember thinking these lyrics were so dumb, but not because I was opposed to the idea of cheesy pop culture references in songs. It’s just that the particular items referenced weren’t things that I personally was into. I did after all, write a song about Michael from Melrose Place. To revisit and paraphrase that memorable line from 1978′s Dawn of the Dead, such things had an important place in our lives.
I felt as though I owed it to Barenaked Ladies to write something about One Week, given how much enjoyment this jam gave me in 1998. 20 years later I can finally admit it.
As I walked toward the museum entrance, my eyes were drawn to a giant red sculpture of what appeared to be a caged tyrannosaurus rex. I found it interesting because it seems like something you would see at the Science Center. It isn’t the kind of highbrow, avant-garde work one expects to see outside an art museum. I briefly entertained the idea of making that piece the focus of this article and avoiding the hefty admission fee ($18 with a student ID) altogether. Ultimately, I decided against it. The museum building itself is constructed in a mid-century modern architectural style, which is fairly common in the downtown Phoenix area and consistent with the age of the building.
The lobby of the museum is a loft-like, large open room with high ceilings. Immediately upon entering, one is greeted to the sight of a 3-D “snowflake” sculpture located near the center of the room. The walls of the hallway adjacent to the lobby are decorated with thousands of black paper butterflies. I’m not sure whether the appearance of the lobby shaped my experience in any significant way, but the open, echoey ambiance and imposing decor gave off the impression that some overwhelming works of art would be in store for my visit.
The galleries are laid out like themed rooms in a multi-level labyrinth maze. The pieces in each gallery tend to fit with the distinct style of each particular collection or exhibition. A gallery will usually feature works from a variety of artists within the particular movement which is being showcased or which the curator specializes in. For example, one of the exhibitions displayed prints by Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, two iconic “pop” artists who worked together and were involved in a personal relationship with one another for a period of time. I think the galleries are presented this way to organize different styles and emphasize what is unique or distinctive in each of them. It also gives the visitor a more complete exposure and makes the exhibitions themselves seem more thorough. The maze-like floor plan allows the visitor to seemingly “get lost” in all the artwork. It gives guests the opportunity to peer around corners and discover new rooms filled with art, just when they thought they had seen everything the museum had to offer.
Since it was early in the afternoon on a weekday, guests were few and far between during my visit. If I had to guess I would say there were maybe thirty or forty visitors, sparsely spread out in the building. I did notice an elderly couple being chided by an employee for touching a large concrete art installation. I found this mildly amusing, imagining that the couple probably thought the art piece was simply a weirdly decorated bench for them to sit on.
For practical purposes, I had made up my mind ahead of time to select a work of art that was a representational painting that depicted some kind of elaborate scene. Regardless of whether I liked or disliked the piece at all, this would assure that I would have sufficient material to talk about for an entire article without having to resort to over-intellectualizing trivial observations or reaching for contrived meaning. Of course, once I arrived at the museum, that plan went completely out the window, and I ended up selecting a work that I was actually interested in and felt extremely drawn to.
My first impression of Jim Hodges’ I Dreamed a World and Called It Love was that it was shiny and made attractive use of color. From a distance it appeared to be a large, abstract painting which was created utilizing either metallic-colored acrylic paints or perhaps a collage made with colored translucent paper. Upon closer inspection, it appeared to have the consistency of colored tinfoil (is there even such a thing?) or cellophane. Upon reading the label, I discovered that most of my assumptions had been incorrect. The material used for this piece was actually stained glass that was cut and meticulously placed on a thick canvas (Lindsay). I was also grossly errant in assuming this was intended to be a “stand alone” work. It turns out that this is just a single panel in what was originally a larger and much more ambitious installation. The full installation apparently included 38 panels in total. It was exhibited at The Gladstone Gallery in 2016 (“I Dreamed a World and Called It Love”). The mistaken assumption that this was a stand-alone work was significant in this case. Unlike trivial observations like what kind of paint was used or whether the canvas was primed, this actually relates to the content of the work. If a visitor had been presented with the entire installation they might have come away with a completely different reading of the piece. Similarly, if an alternate single panel had been selected from a different section, one which featured a substantially different array of colors, this might provoke alternate interpretations of the overall mood or tone of the work. Some artists might even be annoyed at having their work partially displayed in this manner, but it seems that Jim Hodges has opted to be a good sport.
What’s most notable about this panel of I Dreamed a World and Called It Love is the usage of bright, vibrant color. The colors are not sharply divided but are intricately intertwined like crawling vines. There are solid primary colors, secondary colors, tertiary colors and just about everything in between. Various shades of orange, red and maroon near the bottom give the area a volcanic presence. Turquoise blues, grayish whites and purple globs project an image of partially cloudy skies.
The lines are not rugged or chiseled in their appearance. They seem to flow and curve effortlessly to create soft, peaceful separations for the floating splotches of color. This phenomenon also gives the work a sense of motion, as though we’re visualizing the brain activity of someone in the middle of a dream. If we’re someday able to actually record dreams, I would imagine the earliest successful attempts to do so would produce an image like this (before the technology is perfected.) It’s as if someone freeze-framed a psychedelic animation film at one of the most visually pleasing points.
As I hinted at in my initial impressions, the texture here is shiny and metallic. It reminds me of sheet metal (even though it’s actually glass.) The piece is reflective but not with the same clarity as a mirror. In the museum lighting, reflections are visible, but appear distorted and difficult to make out. It’s similar to seeing one’s reflection in a car window or metal pole. There are also small bubbles visible, which are situated between the glass and the canvas. These bubbles are more likely to be a side effect of the process of attaching the glass to the canvas. I don’t believe they were consciously included as a creative choice. However, these bubbles inadvertently create a sense of physical depth to the work. They contribute to the sense of flotation and are consistent with the dreamlike ambiance of the piece. The bubbles create a liquid or aquatic texture for those fortunate enough to notice them.
I’m inclined to label this piece as non-representational rather than merely abstract. It doesn’t appear to depict any tangible object in the physical world. However, if one looks closely enough (and long enough) at the blobs of color, outlines vaguely resembling animals and human shapes in varying stages of motion can be spotted. I’m almost positive this is just a case of pareidolia though. One can drive themselves bonkers believing they’re seeing faces on Mars or the Virgin Mary in a piece of toast. At the end of the day, one doesn’t need to reach for things that aren’t there in order to recognize the impressive substance in what is plainly visible.
What this work means is anybody’s guess. Other than the title, the artist himself offers few clues. It’s worth noting though that the original gargantuan installation reflected color onto the floor (“I Dreamed a World and Called It Love”). This made the floor an additional part of the artwork. The plethora of different panels allowed visitors to see their reflections in different color combinations. On some level, maybe the artist was trying to help us empathize with all different types of people by having us view so many divergent images of ourselves. These reflections allow us to step into the shoes of others and perhaps into the art itself. Just as the light reflects onto the floor, it illuminates the visitor as well. We become part of the whole of the work.
Besides the fact that I found the color and composition of I Dreamed a World and Called It Love appealing, one of the main reasons I selected this work was that it seemed to stand out among the works by much more famous artists which were hanging nearby. This panel was located in a section of the museum which included paintings by icons like Andy Warhol and Keith Haring. Though Jim Hodges may have received substantial critical acclaim over the years and has probably had an illustrious career, he is by no means a household name. The fact that his panel (which turned out to be only a component of the actual work) managed to outshine (literally in this case) the adjacently displayed artwork of legendary figures made me relate to him as a relative underdog. People will go to the museum specifically just to see Warhol’s soup cans, but maybe someday they will make the trip just so they can see this.
XOXOXO was an early 2000s, Phoenix band that almost made it big during the Myspace era. They were fronted by an incredibly talented girl named Rachel Taylor, who tragically passed away about 10 years ago. I knew a girl that performed in a play Rachel wrote titled Sorbet and Other Stuff.The band was somewhat ahead of their time in that they were a polished, synth oriented and fashion conscious indie band at a time when most local indie rock was centered around guitars and Pabst Blue Ribbon. I always admired XOXOXO for aiming for something big. The band released one cd, which is pretty damn hard to find. XOXOXO even had a smear piece written about them in the Phoenix New Times, which is just further proof that they were awesome. XOXOXO disappeared for a while and reemerged with a new name, The Kohl Heart. I seem to recall that they lived in Oakland for a while as well. The members seemed to have a tendency to reinvent themselves just as they were beginning to achieve success. They are mostly forgotten …but not by me. Rachel Taylor RIP.
Summer Song (Hey Hey) is a refreshing and avant garde country pop song from Los Angeles based band, “Lyrics of Two.” The track was written by band founder Marie Helen Abramyan, a songwriter and poet whose work we’ve featured before. One thing Marie has become known for in her writing is an emphasis on seasons. Her poems and songs often capture the essence of a particular season, and its role in nature.
Like previous hits such as LFO’s Summer Girls, Lyrics of Two’s Summer Song (Hey Hey) manages to capture the “feel” of summer and deals with recapturing the carefree spirit of summer that’s been lost somewhere in the grind of day to day adult life. The incredibly catchy “Hey Hey!” hook of the chorus serves as a kind of wake up call for the soul. The song is upbeat from start to finish, conjuring up images of frolicking on the beach with friends and throwing frisbees around. It is upbeat in a way that only the season of summer could be, with the feelings associated with the adjacent seasons both left behind and waiting subtly for their turn, temporarily relegated to the margins.
I first learned of Wayne Butane back around 1995-1995 when he was listed in the Arizona section of the “Book Your to own F*ckin Life” indie music / DIY directory. I really got my money’s worth out of that booklet, having used it to locate all sorts of unsuspecting small time labels and zines to send my cassettes to (and occasionally receive hate mail in return.) I would scan through the cities for anything that didn’t seem like it was some cliche vegan / soc justice / anarchist label or mag. “Book Your to own F*ckin Life” also provided what seemed like endless toilet reading material.
Anyhow, the name Wayne Butane always stood out to me. I remembered that he made sound collages or something. A few years ago I was curious about him, and it’s great to see that he’s still around. He has a really great music podcast, called Jukebox Jihad. One of Wayne’s old releases from the 90′s is Dead Monkey Arcade. It’s basically a sound collage of a lot of different audio recordings: everything from obscure radio commercials to tv show sound bites to random clips of music. He puts it together very cleverly though, constructing a very entertaining and strangely musically enjoyable recording. This sort of thing would have been much more labor intensive to make back then, using analog gear like 4 tracks, record players and cassettes. Computer programs like Audacity which allow you to cut, paste and rearrange thousands of samples were not really available back then (or if they were I certainly didn’t know anyone who had them.) Dead Monkey Arcade is an absolute classic. This “song” is always stuck in my head, and I have annoyed my girlfriend quite a few times by repeatedly reciting quotations from this record. “We care about you, and that’s the reason for this recording, because we care about you.”
Ben Arzate is something of an enigmatic figure in that he is fairly prominent within edgy alternative political and literary circles but almost never expresses opinions on anything other than his analysis of people’s books. What does he actually believe? Who knows. If we are to follow the clues in his own books, we come no closer to unraveling the mystery except to infer that he might believe that nothing really matters, and one is better served in these turbulent times by taking refuge in the world of transgressive fiction, quietly amusing ourselves with the everyday horrors of contemporary life.
A while back I reviewed Ben Arzate’s brief poetry chapbook, which I found to be rather promising. So I was excited to read his new book of short stories, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Saying Goodbye (published by NihilismRevised, 2018) because I knew it would be longer and have more meat to it (insert that’s what SHE said joke here.) What he excels at brilliantly in this book is in creating characters which behave and communicate realistically within the ridiculously absurd, exaggerated and often sci-fi situations they are placed in. He subtly shatters our idealistic and romantic notions by revealing just how mundane, unremarkable and pathetic our lives really are…in any context.
A prime example of this is the story, The Arranged Marriage. In recent years, arranged marriages have gained a resurgence of support and idealization among fringe reactionaries of the “trad” variety, which view them as a solution to “the incel problem” among many other so-called societal ills. Yet in Arzate’s The Arranged Marriage he depicts what I believe a contemporary arranged marriage would actually be like. Lisa and Michael are forced into an arranged marriage by their respective enthusiastic parents. The young couple agree to go along with it without much in the way of protest or enthusiasm. The couple’s conversations are filled with apathetic, intentionally uninspired strings of dialog such as the following:
“Are you looking forward to going to the
carnival?” I asked Lisa.
“I guess,” she said.
“Yeah,” I said.
This is the way people in forced relationships really do talk to one another, regardless of whether the “forced” relationship itself is literally due to familial setup or it’s just two people that happen to be dating but aren’t emotionally invested in one another. They’re just going through the motions.
A relatable story for me is The Country Musician, which relays a tale of a struggling country music artist named Hank in rather realistic, unromantic and less than heroic terms. This isn’t That Thing Called Love.
Hank put the five songs on the Internet.
After a year, each has less than 300 plays. None of
them have gotten any plays in the past month.
This is what being a contemporary indie music artist is actually like. You release an album. A handful of people buy it, but ultimately no one cares except for maybe a few weirdos and lonely e-girls that have crushes on you. You put songs on Soundcloud and sort of promote them in a half-assed way, but they barely get any plays. You mail copies out to important people and record companies, and occasionally someone is interested but nothing happens. At some point someone important will express some interest in your music and offer you something, but only on the condition that you radically change it in ways which are incompatible with who you are and antithetical to your artistic vision. In Hank’s case, a record executive offers him a record deal but wants Hank to record a reggae album instead of country:
The executive tells Hank that he liked his
demo, but country is out. He says that reggae is
the next big thing.
Hank tells the executive that he likes
reggae, but he does not play reggae. He plays
country. He also says he is not black and not
The executive tells him that it does not
matter that he is not black. There are white
Jamaicans. In a voice that sounds like Santa
Claus, he says that Hank just has to do a fake
Almost all of the stories are written in this style of dry, deadpan prose. It’s clearly by design and emphasizes our drab, mechanical, stop-motion animated lives in clownworld. Most of the stories in The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Saying Goodbye have a weird horror/scifi component to them. The story with the same name as the book’s title concerns a house that physically gets cancer. Admittedly, this was one of the more horrifying and grotesque stories for a hypochondriac like me to read. The best way I could describe the stories in this book is that they remind me of the vignettes in 80s-90′s shows like Tales From the Darkside and Monsters, minus any preachy moralizing, important life lessons or poetic justice. I chose those shows to compare the book to specifically rather The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits, which were often trying to lecture or teach us something about how to make the world a better place. Shows like Monsters only did that to a lesser extent and mostly just aimed to creep out the viewer.
Despite their intentionally uninspiring form and low-charisma characters, these short stories are surprisingly engaging. I didn’t find any of them to be boring or lackluster. The objects and “living” physical backgrounds often take up the slack themselves morphing into lively characterizations. There is plenty of imagination here and some stories may have a life outside this book. The Arranged Marriage in particular I feel has the potential to be developed into a novella or short film. The stories in The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Saying Goodbye often end abruptly and without a satisfactory resolution, much like our lives usually do: A man makes a plate of chips and salsa. He sits down on the couch to watch the football game. The game is a blowout, and the team he is cheering for is losing. He is not enjoying the game. During the third quarter, he suffers a heart attack and dies. There are a few chips left on the plate, but most of the salsa got on his shirt. A neighbor finds the man’s body the next day and calls the morgue to tell them there’s a dead body. While he is waiting for someone to arrive, he sees the plate of chips and decides they might not be too stale, so he eats one. (This is not an actual story in the book. I just made it up by the way.)
That’s how our lives actually are though and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Saying Goodbye both horrifies and entertains by briefly taking us out of our depraved world of delusions so that we may cringe and laugh at ourselves and everything around us.
It was a pleasant surprise to discover that “The Interplanetary Acoustic Team” isn’t a bunch of dudes sitting around playing acoustic guitars (not that I’m all that opposed to that sort of thing.) In fact, they describe themselves as “a group of musical explorers whose mission is to listen to the stars, to record the deep gravitational waves rolling across the wide sweep of time, the voices carried on those waves.”
Their debut album, 11 11 (Me, Smiling) is a creative tour de force. Incorporating collage, retro-futurism, obscure sampling, groovy synthesizers, space ambiance, and occasional guitar, vocals and who knows what else, this album is nothing short of an avant garde, cerebral masterpiece. Others have likened it to the sound of a Kubrick film such as 2001, A Space Odyssey, however, to my ears it’s more reminiscent of soundtracks from late 70′s, early 80′s scifi films, such as Saturn 3(music by Elmer Bernstein) or maybe the movies of John Carpenter. It’s like an arthouse version of Buck Rogers. This music is very meditative, almost entrancing. While listening to this album I wanted to line up my crystals on the carpet, close my eyes and see if I could open a stargate portal through my third eye…
I’m not sure if they used all analog synths for this project, but they certainly have captured the best of “the analog sound.” There’s lots of warmth and just the right amount of tape hiss in these recordings. My favorite songs are the title track, 11 11, and also…Islands in the Cosmos. I’d love this album even on aesthetic grounds alone, but unlike so many avant garde, experimental musical creations, the music on 11 11 (Me, Smiling) is actually extremely pleasant to listen to and very good.
Terry Milla’s It’s Bangindo is more than just a geniously titled hip hop track. It’s a lively, piano driven jam with enough going on musically to keep the listener engaged the whole way through. The song features both male and female vocals, with Terry leading the way with rhymes and “Flossy Mae” providing some excellent accompanying hooks. Her expressive, emotive delivery gives the song some dramatic flair. According to Milla,It’s Bangindo “is about the music being dope even if it’s not on the radio.” True enough, but I would also add that it deals with the drive to get things done and the frustration in waiting for others to come through and get the ball rolling. Some people are just “always on” and rather that wait for everyone else to finish doing the hokey pokey, they have to just move forward and do everything on their own. Anyhow, It’s Bangindo is a solid jam and marketable. Terry Milla strikes me as a fun going, entertaining performer that takes care of business.
The artist known as “Pagan Interface” describes his music as Neuromantic Chillwave For the Post Apocalypse. Suffice to say that this sort of thing is right up my alley. Like vaporwave, chillwave is just another tentacle from the genre of retro music that captures the abstract background aesthetic of afternoon mall ambiance of the 80′s and 90′s. With Pagan Interface though, it is thematically more like the ambiance of a mall that’s had a nuclear bomb dropped near it, yet one can still hear a cassette playing somewhere as they’re sifting through the rubble looking for radiation-proof snacks. The post-apocalyptic theme here also makes for some amusing song titles, such as Toothless Youths,Malleable New Flesh and Atomic Bald (lmao!) This music is in fact very chill. The pacing varies from bleak to upbeat, but the synths themselves are quite soothing and meditative. These jams are sure to animate whatever mutated survivors are lurking about out there whom have lost the will to live. I couldn’t help but think that this album would be great to listen to while playing a game like “Fallout” if one were to just turn off the game sound and enjoy the haunted future for what it is.
24-7 is a new single from Love Ghost, a budding young alternative rock band from Los Angeles. When I say young, I do mean young. A couple of the band members are still just in high school. You wouldn’t necessarily guess it from the music though, which comes across as mature and professional.
24-7 deals with themes of anti-bullying. It has long been something of a paradox for bullied kids in school in that in order to get teachers to punish a bully who is tormenting them, they must have to be physically pummeled by the bully before the school will actually do anything. In order to prevent the bully from hurting you further, you must get hurt more drastically. If you yourself do something violent preemptively to the bully, well then you’ll be the one punished. It really is a no win situation. “There’s no escape from attack…Only after the bloody meat hangs on display will they give you, the time of day.” as the song’s lyric states succinctly. Another interesting line is “An elusive language sets the rules and governs the lunchrooms in school.” There is an entire framework and ecosystem at play in school cafeterias. One could write a whole dissertation on that subject, but what’s important here is that some student’s entire lunch experience revolves around evading bullies and avoiding humiliation. Of course, the teachers and lunchroom supervisors themselves take an elusive tact also. They tend to try to avoid confrontation or the uncomfortable responsibility of disciplining problem students. They map out their own “escape” route by looking the other way.
Anyway, let’s get to the actual music. 24-7 is a pretty straightforward alternative rock song. The term “alternative” can mean almost anything these days, but Love Ghost actually has captured something close to the authentic original sound of 90′s alternative music. If I were to listen to this song without having any info beforehand, I would have guessed it came out around 1994. It could have easily found its way on to the Reality Bites soundtrack or maybe even one of the “angstier” teen episodes of Party of Five (thinking maybe season 2 with the Julia and Justin drama.) This music still fits with contemporary times as well. The whole emotive vibe here made me think of the show 13 Reasons Why. The singer here (despite complaining about bullies) displays enough charisma to make it work, as if the band is waging a kind of timid revolution.
The award winning video for 24-7 is worth watching. It features some excellent animation in the vein of a-ha’s Take on Me video. I wish more directors would bring back this style of animation instead of the 3-D, annoying filters or live action crap. Anyway, Love Ghost is a young band, but they’ve got a good thing going. I hope they manage to stay together for a while.